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EDITORIALS & OPINIONS OF THE WEEK:
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FROM GMA NEWS NETWORK

By Howie Severino: A MILLION SUNS
[I think we should all feel lucky to be living through this year of milestones for our country, with the freedom and technology to make ourselves heard, and make even small voices matter. Having been a martial law analog baby with no freedom, I can appreciate this change enough to call it a revolution.]


FEBRUARY 25 -By Howie Singson  It's been 30 years since the EDSA Revolution. Or was it simply a revolt? Did it just change our leaders and not much else? I like to think that there are two kinds of revolutions, the bloodbaths that end convulsive conflicts and the ones on a slow burn. Police about to disperse a student rally on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City on Jan. 25, 1985. Shortly after this photo was taken, the author was arrested and detained in a Fort Bonifacio solitary confinement cell and accused of being the leader of the rally. Howie Severino Our revolution is still smoldering. The 1986 EDSA Revolution gave us back our freedom to speak out and the power to choose our leaders. But the EDSA Revolution also gave enormous, nearly unlimited, power to the mass media, almost an institutional monopoly on the power to disseminate large volumes of information to the public. That’s why I think we are living through another revolution today, a revolution brought about by technology. With cell phone cameras in your hands, you can immediately send evidence of wrongdoing to the public at large, even bypassing traditional media if you wish. In a way, each of you is breaking up the monopoly on information controlled by the mass media. You can publish and broadcast your ideas on the Internet without the traditional media gatekeepers. You can engage in debate with strangers. As so-called citizen journalists, you can influence policy and even the national conversation by letting the sun shine in in dark, secret places. Sunshine is still the best disinfectant, especially if the source comes from a million suns. So the freedom given back to us in 1986, coupled with the amazing possibilities of technology give ordinary Filipinos today a kind of political power very hard to imagine when I began my journalism career 28 years ago. Yet most of us know what Spiderman’s uncle said, with great power comes great responsibility. Power is a double-edged sword, because we can wield our newfound power to malign others, spread lies, and otherwise harm society and other people. The kind of restraint and discipline and thoughtfulness that will prevent us from abusing the power in our hands can only come from enlightenment—through our upbringing and education. READ MORE...

ALSO: By Philip Ilustre, Jr - It was a joy for a journalist to cover Jovy Salonga


MARCH 12 -By PHILIP M. LUSTRE JR.
It was in the late 1980, when I first met Sen. Jovito Salonga in flesh and blood. It was the height of martial law and dictator Ferdinand Marcos ruled with iron fist without mandate from the Filipino people. His term of office was supposed to end in 1973, but he used martial rule to hang on beyond the end of his term. Salonga was part of the anti-dictatorship struggle. He was among the forces comprising the democratic opposition, which called for an end for the Marcos dictatorship and the holding of credible and honest elections to pave the way for the restoration of democracy. Salonga led in the creation of the United Democratic Opposition, or Unido, a bipartisan group of political leaders, which offered what they described as the “democratic alternative,” which was to force Marcos to step down and call for the holding of free, clean, and orderly elections for new leaders. Comprising the Liberal Party contingent in Unido was Sen. Gerardo Roxas, who was LP president, Salonga, former President Diosdado Macapagal, among others. The Nacionalista Party contingent was headed by Sen.Salvador Laurel, Speaker Jose Laurel Jr., Sen. Ambrosio Padilla, among others. Roxas and Laurel were Unido co-presidents. Even the democratic opposition was being radicalized during those days, as Marcos would not yield to criticisms that he was governing without mandate. The democratic opposition leaders were beginning to see the wisdom of what the political activists were saying – that only a violent upheaval would end the Marcos dictatorship. I remember Jovy Salonga calling for a press conference in late 1980 after Marcos released him after days of imprisonment. Salonga was implicated as among those behind the series of Manila bombings initiated by the clandestine April 6th Liberation Movement, a group of Jesuit educated activists. CONTINUE READING...

ALSO: By REEZA SINGSON - How a puppy, not religious dogma... taught me humanity
[Each person has a unique spiritual journey. What works for Manny Pacquiao may not necessarily work for others. And what works for me is not guaranteed to work for you. The important thing is to find your own enlightenment, and for everyone to respect one another's journey. As for me, I travel because it's one way I nourish my soul. Nature is my church. In nature, I see quiet beauty, generosity, serenity, peace, resilience... things that I hope to perfect within myself.]


FEBREUARY 19 -BY REEZA SINGSON - I was once a zealous, fire-and-brimstone-spewing, injudicious, newly-minted born-again Christian like Manny Pacquiao. I thumped the bible at every opportunity and lectured others who did not subscribe to my beliefs. I heard in church that people who did not accept Christ as their Lord and Savior were the ”unsaved,” that they were doomed to burn in hell no matter how good and kind they were as human beings, and I insensitively parroted this frightful imagery to whoever I thought was unsaved. Sanctimoniously I pitied them, and every day I gave pious thanks to the heavens that I was secure from the eternal damnation that awaited them. In strict observance of my obligations and my new life as a born-again Christian, I attended church religiously, showed up in prayer meetings without fail, studied the bible daily and tried to live out its teachings... I gave tithes, avoided romantic relationships with the unsaved, denied my body its natural biological urges, and ran away screaming in fright of the devil whenever I heard “Hotel California” playing on the radio. I did all this for six years. But despite all that, my spirit was still thirsty. For me, some part of the truth was missing, and my stunted soul remained in desperate search. So I studied other faiths. I attended their services, performed their poses, scrutinized their deities and prophets, and read their holy books. Only after I have investigated every major religion did I realize that the answer, at least for me, was not there. It wasn't until some 20 years later when the answer came to me, and it was delivered in a most unexpected way — a dog came into our home, and it changed my life forever. He was a helpless puppy when he was gifted to us. I saw how very much like a human baby he was, needing food, sleep, comforting, and cuddling. I gave him whatever he needed, but only because he was small and didn't have his mother, and I thought caring for him was the decent thing to do. As he grew, however, we became friends rather than infant and caregiver. And my passing concern for him became resolute affection. During our quiet times together, I would look into his eyes and see his gentle soul looking out from the inside. He would offer me his paw and I would feel a kind of affection I've never felt before. I thought to myself, I’ve found a true friend. Little did I realize then, he had begun to awaken my soul. When we begin to find joy in caring for someone who can never repay us or utter words of thanks, our spirit is stirred. READ MORE...

ALSO: By Aileen SP. Baviera - Presidential elections and the country’s foreign policy


FEBRUARY 27 -Aileen SP. Baviera, Ph.D. In the run-up to the May presidential elections, candidates will be held to close scrutiny by the thinking members of the electorate. How well have have they thought out the major problems of the country and the potential solutions that can best serve the long-term interests of the Filipino people, instead of the expedient solutions or promises that can merely help get them elected? Among the myriad issues that will demand attention—perhaps not necessarily the one closest to the needs of Juan dela Cruz but nonetheless of vital strategic importance—is the question of how to handle relations with China. China is a major power with still growing regional and global influence, whether on questions of global financial stability, international security, energy, climate change, and more. It also happens to be a key protagonist and our major adversary in the single most challenging external security concern of the country at present—the territorial and maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea. Thus far, the disputes have not led to armed confrontation, but the trends point toward increased militarization, expansion of occupation and presence, and the hardening of positions of the various states concerned. Finding a political solution based on law and diplomacy will be no easy task. The alternative—not finding one—could be tragic. How will the next president deal with this matter? On the other hand, managing our relations with the United States and updating the defense alliance in response to a changing regional environment will be equally challenging. This comes at a sensitive crossroads in US history, when it is economically weak, with its internal politics in disarray, and when it is arguably losing its claim to leadership even over some traditional allies and friends. The US remains the most formidable military force on the planet indeed, and it is still believed to be the most credible guarantor of regional stability in our part of the world. But it is grappling with the right approach to simultaneous challenges—including domestic ones, the Islamic State, a resurgent Russia, and an ambitious and assertive China. What role we want the US to play in our own region and with respect to our own national aspirations, is something the next President would do well to consider.  READ MORE...

ALSO: By Rustom Banal - Sculptor Willy Layug receives Catholic Church’s highest honor


MARCH 10 -BY RUSTOM BANAL -Willy Layug (front row, fourth from right) received the papal award from Catholic Church prelates, including Archbishop Socrates Villegas (middle row, third from left) on Wednesday. Photos: Ruston Banal
"Thirty years ago, nobody knew the name Willy Layug. Today, Willy Layug has [become] a household name for ecclesiastical art which even the Pope knows," Lingayen-Dagupan Pangasinan Archbishop Soc Villegas told the hundreds of people who attended the conferment of a papal award on the renowned sculptor at the San Fernando Cathedral in Pampanga on Wednesday. The Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice is bestowed on lay people for services to the Church, and is the highest honor the Church can award to the laity. Layug, a premier ecclesiastical sculptor from the barrio of Sta. Ursula in Betis, Pampanga, was honored for creating beautiful retablos and santos over the decades, including a 7-foot tall wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary that was placed near the altar at the open-air Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Tacloban in January last year. Betis has been known as a center of woodcarving and woodworking since at least the Spanish colonial period. From creating folk art to making furniture, the woodcarving industry has been a source of livelihood for the townsfolk, especially during the post-war period. The industry declined after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption caused a lot of furniture and carpentry businesses in the area to close. Layug, 57, is one of the few woodcarvers who stayed in Betis. " I think it was all God's providence that after Pinatubo, clients started to resurface and commissioned santos and retablos became regular," said Layug, adding that he actually became more prolific in the years after the disaster. The medal bestowed on Layug. In the late 90's, hungry for new knowledge and technique, Layug went to Europe to study the works of great masters like Bernini and Michelangelo. He apprenticed under contemporary Spanish masters, from whom he learned new techniques such as "estofado," or applying gold leaf on sculptures—something that had not been done before in Philippine ecclesiastical art. READ MORE...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

COMMENTARY A million suns

MANILA, MARCH 14, 2016 (GMA NEWS) February 25, 2016 10:44am - By HOWIE SEVERINO, GMA News Author - It's been 30 years since the EDSA Revolution. Or was it simply a revolt? Did it just change our leaders and not much else?

I like to think that there are two kinds of revolutions, the bloodbaths that end convulsive conflicts and the ones on a slow burn.

Police about to disperse a student rally on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City on Jan. 25, 1985. Shortly after this photo was taken, the author was arrested and detained in a Fort Bonifacio solitary confinement cell and accused of being the leader of the rally. Howie Severino Our revolution is still smoldering. The 1986 EDSA Revolution gave us back our freedom to speak out and the power to choose our leaders.

But the EDSA Revolution also gave enormous, nearly unlimited, power to the mass media, almost an institutional monopoly on the power to disseminate large volumes of information to the public.

That’s why I think we are living through another revolution today, a revolution brought about by technology.

With cell phone cameras in your hands, you can immediately send evidence of wrongdoing to the public at large, even bypassing traditional media if you wish. In a way, each of you is breaking up the monopoly on information controlled by the mass media.

You can publish and broadcast your ideas on the Internet without the traditional media gatekeepers. You can engage in debate with strangers.

As so-called citizen journalists, you can influence policy and even the national conversation by letting the sun shine in in dark, secret places. Sunshine is still the best disinfectant, especially if the source comes from a million suns.

So the freedom given back to us in 1986, coupled with the amazing possibilities of technology give ordinary Filipinos today a kind of political power very hard to imagine when I began my journalism career 28 years ago.

Yet most of us know what Spiderman’s uncle said, with great power comes great responsibility.

Power is a double-edged sword, because we can wield our newfound power to malign others, spread lies, and otherwise harm society and other people.

The kind of restraint and discipline and thoughtfulness that will prevent us from abusing the power in our hands can only come from enlightenment—through our upbringing and education.

READ MORE...

The best use of power in my opinion is service. It need not be public service right away. It can simply be service to family.

There is no better way of learning the documentary craft than to be the documentarist of your family. That’s how I learned to wield the power of technology.

Many years ago, I pointed my first video camera at my grandmother, my Lola Charing, who I discovered still stored in her hard drive of a brain precious unrecorded family memories many decades old. She did not stop talking until I ran out of tape.

I thought I was just practicing a craft, but I ended up with a family treasure of documentation. Now that she is gone, the power of her words and laughter remains for future generations of my family.

That experience taught me many things about my craft, but it also gave me another reason to be thankful for being in my prime during such an exciting time.

I think we should all feel lucky to be living through this year of milestones for our country, with the freedom and technology to make ourselves heard, and make even small voices matter. Having been a martial law analog baby with no freedom, I can appreciate this change enough to call it a revolution.


By HOWIE SEVERINO, Journalist Horacio "Howie" Severino is a Filipino journalist and has worked in print, television, and online media. Wikipedia Born: July 18, 1961 (age 54), Manila, Philippines Education: University of Sussex, Tufts University TV shows: News to Go, i-Witness Awards: PMPC Star Awards for TV Best Documentary Program Host Nominations: PMPC Star Awards for TV Best Male Newscaster FB PROFILE


FIRST PERSON It was a joy for a journalist to cover Jovy Salonga Published March 12, 2016 3:04pm By PHILIP M. LUSTRE JR.




By PHILIP M. LUSTRE JR.

It was in the late 1980, when I first met Sen. Jovito Salonga in flesh and blood. It was the height of martial law and dictator Ferdinand Marcos ruled with iron fist without mandate from the Filipino people. His term of office was supposed to end in 1973, but he used martial rule to hang on beyond the end of his term.

Salonga was part of the anti-dictatorship struggle. He was among the forces comprising the democratic opposition, which called for an end for the Marcos dictatorship and the holding of credible and honest elections to pave the way for the restoration of democracy.

Salonga led in the creation of the United Democratic Opposition, or Unido, a bipartisan group of political leaders, which offered what they described as the “democratic alternative,” which was to force Marcos to step down and call for the holding of free, clean, and orderly elections for new leaders.

Comprising the Liberal Party contingent in Unido was Sen. Gerardo Roxas, who was LP president, Salonga, former President Diosdado Macapagal, among others. The Nacionalista Party contingent was headed by Sen.Salvador Laurel, Speaker Jose Laurel Jr., Sen. Ambrosio Padilla, among others. Roxas and Laurel were Unido co-presidents.

Even the democratic opposition was being radicalized during those days, as Marcos would not yield to criticisms that he was governing without mandate.

The democratic opposition leaders were beginning to see the wisdom of what the political activists were saying – that only a violent upheaval would end the Marcos dictatorship.

I remember Jovy Salonga calling for a press conference in late 1980 after Marcos released him after days of imprisonment. Salonga was implicated as among those behind the series of Manila bombings initiated by the clandestine April 6th Liberation Movement, a group of Jesuit educated activists.

CONTINUE READING...

Col. Balbino Diego, the legal counsel of the Presidential Security Command, alleged that Salonga was part of the underground group on the basis of a captured photograph, showing him with Victor Burns Lovely, a Filipino-American who nearly died when the bomb he was preparing prematurely exploded in a rented at YMCA in Manila.

During the press conference attended mostly by members of the Manila-based foreign media as the pro-Marcos crony press hardly covered opposition initiated events, I saw his mangled left hand, the ubiquitous hearing aid, and scars of shrapnel wounds in his hands and neck and the blind left eye, which had an artificial eyeball.

Salonga was the most badly injured in the August 21, 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing. An unknown assailant threw a pair of hand grenades to the LP political rally in a city square described as the country’s “center of free expression.”

 
DOWN BUT NOT OUT. A bandaged Salonga who was recuperating from his injuries following the Plaza Miranda bombing on the front cover of the Philippine Free Press.

Salonga was given up as dead, but somehow the doctors who attended to him did what could be regarded a miraculous job to revive him. He survived, in brief, but now without leaving those scars and other marks of unforgivable violence.

I noticed that Salonga was a small man, probably standing five feet three inches, or even shorter. But he had a remarkable intellect. He spoke with an unusual lucidity of thought. The brevity of words was ably matched by the clarity of ideas coming from his brilliant mind.

It was a joy for a journalist to cover him. I found intellectual satisfaction in savoring those words and ideas of a brilliant man. Those quotes came out naturally for him.

Two or three months later, I covered Jovy Salonga, who sat on a table with Gerry Roxas and Doy Laurel to oppose the “paper lifting” of martial law on Jan. 17, 1981. Despite the lifting, Marcos retained the powers to legislate and kept the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus that enabled him to arrest and jail people without warrants and court charges.


A young Sen. Jovito Salonga (right) on the Senate floor with another eminent statesman, Sen. Lorenzo Tanada.

Then, Marcos, reacting to criticisms that he was ruling without any mandate, announced the holding of presidential elections on June 17, 1981. It was Jovy Salonga’s show, as he spoke brilliantly on the ultimate necessity to boycott the elections.

I remember Salonga arguing quite passionately that any participation by the democratic opposition to what he described “farcical and sham president elections” would only provide legitimacy to the illegitimate government of Marcos.

Salonga succeeded as the Unido-led democratic opposition chose to boycott the elections, outsmarting Doy Laurel and Reuben Canoy, who favored participation, and forcing Marcos to look for an opponent. He asked a bosom buddy, Jose Roy, a former senator and leader of the Nacionalista Party, to look for somebody, who could provide the token opposition.

Roy fielded Alejo Santos, the former defense secretary of President Ramon Magsaysay. His campaign manager was Francisco Tatad. Of course, Marcos handily won over the hurriedly picked token opposition candidate.

Marcos allowed Jovy Salonga to leave for the United States in late March 1981 ostensibly to seek medical help on the effects of the Plaza Miranda bombing on his frail body. He was in the US, when Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., his party mate and friend, was assassinated on August 21, 1983.

Seeing the emergence of the widespread opposition against the Marcos dictatorial regime and its widening unpopularity, Salonga returned to the Philippines sometime in January, 1985. I was among the throngs of journalists, who covered his arrival press conference at the National Press Club in the Manila district of Intramuros.

In that press conference, Salonga declared his intention to lead in the revival of the Liberal Party, which hibernated after the 1982 death of Gerry Roxas (he died of liver cancer) and 1983 murder of Ninoy Aquino.

He was the natural choice to lead the LP; no one among the leading party leaders had the national stature to assume its leadership.

But what stuck into my mind during that fateful press conference was Salonga’s declaration that when the US–Philippines Military Bases Agreement ended in 1992, the Americans had no choice but to leave. Salonga did not engage in double talk. He just laid down the basic arguments.

I did not have the prescience at that time to see the wisdom of his words. In hindsight, which is always 20/20, what Salonga said during that press conference would become the basis of his own opposition against moves to extend the military bases agreement beyond 1992. Salonga was already the man of the hour during those days on the US bases issue. He won.

As the opposition against the Marcos dictatorship raged during those days, Salonga was among those who worked for the ascent of Cory Aquino to become the candidate of the unified opposition against Marcos in the fateful 1986 “snap” presidential elections.

The LP was not strong to show political muscles during those days, but under his leadership, it coalesced with other democratic forces to ensure fighting chances for the Cory Aquino–Doy Laurel ticket.

Salonga was the natural choice to head the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), when the Cory Aquino government assumed power by virtue of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. He was an expert of international law, which is very important in the Philippine government claims over the illicit wealth stashed here and abroad by the Marcoses, cronies, and ilk.

The PCGG, largely under Salonga’s leadership succeeded in giving a perspective on the Marcos kleptocratic rule. I covered the PCGG during those days. In one press conference, Salonga gave the magnitude of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and cronies at between $5 billion to $10 billion. This has become the operational premise of the entire recovery efforts.

Salonga stayed only a year at the PCGG, after which, he was elected to the Senate to become the first Senate president in the post-Marcos era. But Salonga could be credited for providing the seminal ideas and building blocks of the entire recovery efforts.

Salonga provided the direction and clarity of thought for the recovery efforts. It success lies on the fact that the Philippine government, through the PCGG, has recovered after 30 years a total of P170 billion in cash from those illegally acquired assets of the toppled dictator, his family, and cronies.

This figure could go up to over P200 billion when the court decides in government’s favor the remaining civil cases.


Senate President Jovito Salonga

I had the privilege of covering Salonga in the 8th Congress. I saw how hard he worked to lead the Senate in the enactment of important pieces of legislation to ensure the restoration of democracy. He was among the voices that worked for the democratic structures and processes to work and propel the restored democracy.

Vital legislation like the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, the Office of the Ombudsman Law, Ethical Standards Law, the Sandiganbayan Law, among others were enacted under Salonga’s leadership.

But Salonga had his share of failures too. He and Sen. Teofisto Guingona Jr. worked for the enactment of the enabling law on the constitutional provision against political dynasties. He had the Senate enact it. But the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Ramon Mitra, Jr, killed it. It did not lift a finger to enact it.

His crowning glory came when he succeeded in the non-ratification of a new bases accord replacing the old military bases that ended in 1992.

Later, he ran for president in the 1992 presidential elections, the first ever after the dismantling of the Marcos dictatorship. He did not have the luck and lost. He retired from politics after the elections.

Salonga is best remembered for being a patriot, statesman, and staunch anti-corruption lawmaker, who showed the way in combating corrupt tendencies in government. He lived modestly until his death. Moreover, his brilliant record is untainted by corruption; he was never accused of corruption though.


A POST-PACQUIAO REFLECTION How a puppy — not religious dogma — taught me humanity Published February 19, 2016 9:10pm By REEZA SINGZON


By REEZA SINGZON

I was once a zealous, fire-and-brimstone-spewing, injudicious, newly-minted born-again Christian like Manny Pacquiao.

I thumped the bible at every opportunity and lectured others who did not subscribe to my beliefs. I heard in church that people who did not accept Christ as their Lord and Savior were the ”unsaved,” that they were doomed to burn in hell no matter how good and kind they were as human beings, and I insensitively parroted this frightful imagery to whoever I thought was unsaved.

Sanctimoniously I pitied them, and every day I gave pious thanks to the heavens that I was secure from the eternal damnation that awaited them.

In strict observance of my obligations and my new life as a born-again Christian, I attended church religiously, showed up in prayer meetings without fail, studied the bible daily and tried to live out its teachings... I gave tithes, avoided romantic relationships with the unsaved, denied my body its natural biological urges, and ran away screaming in fright of the devil whenever I heard “Hotel California” playing on the radio. I did all this for six years.

But despite all that, my spirit was still thirsty.

For me, some part of the truth was missing, and my stunted soul remained in desperate search. So I studied other faiths. I attended their services, performed their poses, scrutinized their deities and prophets, and read their holy books.

Only after I have investigated every major religion did I realize that the answer, at least for me, was not there.

It wasn't until some 20 years later when the answer came to me, and it was delivered in a most unexpected way — a dog came into our home, and it changed my life forever.

He was a helpless puppy when he was gifted to us. I saw how very much like a human baby he was, needing food, sleep, comforting, and cuddling.

I gave him whatever he needed, but only because he was small and didn't have his mother, and I thought caring for him was the decent thing to do.

As he grew, however, we became friends rather than infant and caregiver. And my passing concern for him became resolute affection.

During our quiet times together, I would look into his eyes and see his gentle soul looking out from the inside. He would offer me his paw and I would feel a kind of affection I've never felt before. I thought to myself, I’ve found a true friend.

Little did I realize then, he had begun to awaken my soul. When we begin to find joy in caring for someone who can never repay us or utter words of thanks, our spirit is stirred.

READ MORE...

The little puppy is a grown dog now. He is well-formed and healthy, and he likes to play with another puppy we’ve since adopted. They roughhouse like human children, they fight over their toys, and they come running for cuddles when called.

They love treats, hate bath time, love outdoor walks and car rides, and they are attached to us, their human family.

When I realized how similar they were to human children, I released from their cages two other older dogs we've had in the yard for ages and another one whom we've kept caged inside the house.

For the first time, their paws touched grass, and they felt sunshine on their faces. And for the first time, I cried about something that had nothing to do with myself.

I've asked for their forgiveness, and we’ve since become good friends. I still feel remorse for their previous enslavement, and I couldn't help overdoing it at times, hovering around them like a solicitous mother hen. They were taken away from their mothers as puppies, and I felt someone had to fill those shoes, so I did.

Before long, without deliberate thought on my part, I’ve extended this puppy care to humans, and not long after, to the earth. Without effort, I began to see the beauty in everything, even in tufts of grass and clumps of mushrooms.

Then I began to travel extensively, to see what other beautiful things were out there that I didn’t know about.

In my travels (mostly alone) I looked for quiet places where I could sit in solitude and watch the earth as it preened and displayed its awesome beauty---magnificent trees that grew from a single seed, splendid mountains that took millennia to rise, passing humans that took billions of years to evolve…

I didn’t need any indoctrination. Just from observing life unfold around me, genuine concern for all forms of life developed in my awakening soul.

Today, I am the most content I’ve ever been. I am fully awake now, and because I've learned empathy, I am finally living and not just existing.

For me, there is meaning and purpose in every day.

In addition to caring for our dogs, I've learned to take care of our family, our household, our wards… I work at a job I've learned to enjoy, a job that offers hope to downtrodden folks.

I've learned to help people whenever I can, so that they too might someday have the means to help others.

I've learned to speak out for the earth, for my country, for oppressed humans, for animals, for anyone else who I think needs defending.

And for all that, I have our dogs to thank. Even without words, without verses, they taught me compassion. And even though they are animals, they taught me humanity.

From our dogs, I learned to give without expecting reward, return, or gratitude. I learned to love unconditionally and genuinely, and to take the cudgels for others.

I realized that animals are us and we are them. I realized that love can transcend species.

I realized that all the romantic “loves” I’ve had in the past were mere expectations of mutual attention (no offense to my exes), but I also learned that true love is possible.

And finally, I realized that here at last was the answer to my lifelong search for the one truth that would rouse my soul.

The truth for me turned out to be an old cliché, but I was providentially made to run around in circles first for more than 20 years so that I might fully appreciate the tremendous power of this truth when the right time came.

And so, serendipitously, here I am at the time that's right for me. And I’ve found that, quite simply, for me: LOVE is the answer.

If we can learn to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, then I have no doubt this world would indeed be a better place.

Religious dogma is plentiful and difficult to memorize; it is so much easier to remember to just love.

Love may seem like such a simplistic notion, but can you imagine if all our politicians loved us like they love themselves? Why, they wouldn’t rob us blind as they do now.

These past three years have been the most spiritually enriching in my life.

My soul grew in enormous leaps I didn't foresee. And all because a dog unexpectedly came into our home and showed me that we are not much different from one another.

Animals breathe, eat, sleep, play, love, breed, nurture, cuddle, cry, grieve… just like humans.

How much more similar do you think we are among ourselves of the same species? Male, female, black, white, heterosexuals, homosexuals… we are all the same inside, in the heart, where it matters.

Outside of the heart, everything is just clothing. Our gender, race, education, religion, social status, civil status… they are all just outward clothing. And we each can wear whatever clothes we want as long as we do no harm to others.

When we judge others we judge ourselves, for we are them and they are us.

For those who believe in no god, let us not force our gods upon them. Well-meaning as we may be, imposing our beliefs on others is an act of violence against them.

And for those who believe in a god, let us not judge them for the private things they do that don't affect our own lives. Judgment is a job for their god to do, not ours.

Each person has a unique spiritual journey. What works for Manny Pacquiao may not necessarily work for others. And what works for me is not guaranteed to work for you.

The important thing is to find your own enlightenment, and for everyone to respect one another's journey.

As for me, I travel because it's one way I nourish my soul.

Nature is my church. In nature, I see quiet beauty, generosity, serenity, peace, resilience... things that I hope to perfect within myself.

Nothing judges in nature. Nothing there has malice.


COMMENTARY Presidential elections and the country’s foreign policy Published February 17, 2016 11:06am By AILEEN SP BAVIERA


Aileen SP. Baviera, Ph.D.

In the run-up to the May presidential elections, candidates will be held to close scrutiny by the thinking members of the electorate. How well have have they thought out the major problems of the country and the potential solutions that can best serve the long-term interests of the Filipino people, instead of the expedient solutions or promises that can merely help get them elected?

Among the myriad issues that will demand attention—perhaps not necessarily the one closest to the needs of Juan dela Cruz but nonetheless of vital strategic importance—is the question of how to handle relations with China. China is a major power with still growing regional and global influence, whether on questions of global financial stability, international security, energy, climate change, and more. It also happens to be a key protagonist and our major adversary in the single most challenging external security concern of the country at present—the territorial and maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea. Thus far, the disputes have not led to armed confrontation, but the trends point toward increased militarization, expansion of occupation and presence, and the hardening of positions of the various states concerned. Finding a political solution based on law and diplomacy will be no easy task. The alternative—not finding one—could be tragic. How will the next president deal with this matter?

On the other hand, managing our relations with the United States and updating the defense alliance in response to a changing regional environment will be equally challenging. This comes at a sensitive crossroads in US history, when it is economically weak, with its internal politics in disarray, and when it is arguably losing its claim to leadership even over some traditional allies and friends. The US remains the most formidable military force on the planet indeed, and it is still believed to be the most credible guarantor of regional stability in our part of the world. But it is grappling with the right approach to simultaneous challenges—including domestic ones, the Islamic State, a resurgent Russia, and an ambitious and assertive China. What role we want the US to play in our own region and with respect to our own national aspirations, is something the next President would do well to consider.

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The Philippines is a developing country that now finds itself sandwiched between these two big powers. Having the twelfth largest population in the world and situated in its most dynamic region, we are by no means a small country. Yet in our foreign policy, we have tended to behave as if we were, looking inward or only a short distance beyond our shores, or where our migrant communities and overseas workers seem to need government help. We have also tended to rely too much on partners and allies to do the heavy lifting for us.

The Philippine Presidency in fact has a very powerful role in shaping the contours of Philippine diplomacy. Often referred to as the Chief Architect of foreign relations, a Philippine president can redefine priorities, dictate the tone and posture, and even personally manage diplomacy with selected countries if he so wishes, subject to some structural constraints.

Such constraints include the Constitution, treaties that our previous governments have committed to, and obligations under international law. The biggest constraint of all, however, is the lack of power and wealth the Philippines is faced with relative to other members of the international community, as these can determine how much influence we can actually wield, or not.

Even if we have faith in international norms, principles, and legal institutions, or in being on the side of “right” against “might,” and even if there are allies and other countries with whom some of our interests may converge, ultimately the Filipino nation—like any other—is left to fend for itself. It must defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, mitigate threats from outside our borders, and ensure an external environment that allows us to prosper and our best values and beliefs (i.e. our identity as a people) to thrive. And the highest responsibilty for that sits with the President.

Moreover, the President as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces holds that most hallowed and grave authority (albeit needing concurrence by the Congress) to determine when and why Filipinos must go to war. This is notwithstanding the fact that in our Constitution, the people have renounced the use of war as an instrument of national policy.

Both by law and tradition and because of our political culture, the Philippine President enjoys much leeway to put his or her personal stamp on the nation’s foreign policy. We can speak, for instance, of a Marcos foreign policy, a Ramos foreign policy, a Macapagal-Arroyo foreign policy, and even an Aquino III foreign policy. However, when one tries to conceptualize and explain “Philippine foreign policy” (other than in the broadest generalities such as the much-touted “three pillars” of national security, economic diplomacy and assistance to nationals), many of us will draw a blank. In fact, one feature of our foreign policy across presidencies has been lack of consistency and continuity, which does not help build confidence in government whether among our own people, our allies or adversaries.

In practice, we have also seen the downside of having presidents who lacked an understanding of statecraft, and we have been in situations where the institutions or individuals tasked with foreign policy management (the Cabinet, DFA, DND, among others) lacked the capability, the courage or the élan to step up and provide vision or leadership when presidents failed to do so. In such instances, we end up with a foreign policy of “muddling through”. This is something we can no longer afford to do.

By no means do we expect our presidents to be great statesmen in the likes of Zhou Enlai, Gandhi and Mandela. However, we do deserve leaders who will know how to interact with other leaders and governments in order to serve the best interests of the nation, without getting us deeper into conflict or injecting major uncertainties into already complex regional relations. Who among the candidates for the highest office can best understand how challenging this is?

This brief commentary was written by the author for the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, Inc. and the UP sa Halalan Project. It was published earlier on the APPFI website.

Prof. Aileen San Pablo-Baviera, PhD is a Professor at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines, where she also served as Dean from 2003-2009. She also has a visiting professor appointment at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. Since July 2010, she has served as editor-in-chief of the refereed academic journal Asian Politics & Policy (Wiley-Blackwell).

This article is reposted here with permission.


Sculptor Willy Layug receives Catholic Church’s highest honor Published March 10, 2016 10:14am By RUSTON BANAL


Willy Layug (front row, fourth from right) received the papal award from Catholic Church prelates, including Archbishop Socrates Villegas (middle row, third from left) on Wednesday. Photos: Ruston Banal

"Thirty years ago, nobody knew the name Willy Layug. Today, Willy Layug has [become] a household name for ecclesiastical art which even the Pope knows," Lingayen-Dagupan Pangasinan Archbishop Soc Villegas told the hundreds of people who attended the conferment of a papal award on the renowned sculptor at the San Fernando Cathedral in Pampanga on Wednesday.

The Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice is bestowed on lay people for services to the Church, and is the highest honor the Church can award to the laity.

Layug, a premier ecclesiastical sculptor from the barrio of Sta. Ursula in Betis, Pampanga, was honored for creating beautiful retablos and santos over the decades, including a 7-foot tall wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary that was placed near the altar at the open-air Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Tacloban in January last year.

Betis has been known as a center of woodcarving and woodworking since at least the Spanish colonial period. From creating folk art to making furniture, the woodcarving industry has been a source of livelihood for the townsfolk, especially during the post-war period.

The industry declined after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption caused a lot of furniture and carpentry businesses in the area to close. Layug, 57, is one of the few woodcarvers who stayed in Betis. " I think it was all God's providence that after Pinatubo, clients started to resurface and commissioned santos and retablos became regular," said Layug, adding that he actually became more prolific in the years after the disaster.


The medal bestowed on Layug.

In the late 90's, hungry for new knowledge and technique, Layug went to Europe to study the works of great masters like Bernini and Michelangelo. He apprenticed under contemporary Spanish masters, from whom he learned new techniques such as "estofado," or applying gold leaf on sculptures—something that had not been done before in Philippine ecclesiastical art.

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In 2009, Layug was awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit Award and was one of the contenders for the National Artist designation under the Arroyo presidency.

Layug, who was unable to complete his college degree due to financial problems, is also now set to graduate with a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts from the University of Sto. Tomas with the help of UST CFAD Regent Fr. Edgar Alaurin. "He only has some few remaining units left and I convinced him to enroll them so he can finally graduate," said Alaurin.

"I am so happy that my son—who also took a Fine Arts Degree in UST—and I will graduate at the same time," Layug happily said.


Layug works on a life-size wooden sculpture of Mary in this photo taken October 2014.

In the last two decades, Layug has created monumental works, altarpieces 20 or 30 feet high that now adorn parish churches and cathedrals all over the country. Some of these are the St. Joseph Cathedral in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija; the St. Joseph Cathedral in Butuan City; the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral in Virac, Catanduanes; the St. John Cathedral in Dagupan. He also created a retable for the Pontifico Collegio Filippino in Rome.

In 2013, Layug was the subject of "Dukit," a film by acclaimed screenwriter Armando Lao which won Best Picture (Full Feature) at the Metro Manila Film Festival in the New Wave Category. Layug won for Best Actor.

This year, a book on Layug's life and work will be launched alongside his receiving his bachelor's degree from UST. — BM, GMA News


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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